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Sneering at the Enquirer

Clint Hendler in the Columbia Journalism Review

For the Charlotte Observer, it began in October, when the National Enquirer published an article suggesting that presidential candidate–and former North Carolina senator–John Edwards was having an affair.
The Enquirer’s story purported to quote crush emails the woman-in-question, Rielle Hunter, had sent to friends. But otherwise the piece was thin. And the tabloid, while enjoying a quiet reputation for being libel-proof, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the hearts of editors and readers.
Still, the McClatchy-owned Observer, the largest paper in Edwards’s home state, sent Lisa Zagaroli, its Washington reporter, up to New York to make contacts and check around.
“I looked at it as a news tip,” says Rick Thames, the Observer’s editor. “I wasn’t put off by it being in the National Enquirer. I was worried it if it was true.”
Thames felt Zagaroli was making progress. But then Andrew Young, an Edwards campaign aide, stepped forward to claim that he, not his boss, had impregnated Hunter. In Thames eyes, “the story cooled.”
But on July 22nd, the National Enquirer published a luridly written tale asserting that Edwards had joined Hunter and her now some-months-old baby behind closed doors in the Beverly Hills Hilton. After said meeting, the Enquirer reporters wrote that Edwards led them on a Keystone Kops style chase through the stairways, basements, and bathrooms of the hotel.

So who’ll be the first to ask Andrew Young if he is still claiming to be the father of the child? Bet it won’t be the Charlotte Observer.

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